It’s no secret that today’s workplace is rapidly becoming vast, as the business environment expands to include various geographic locations and span numerous cultures. What can be difficult, however, is understanding how to communicate effectively with individuals who speak another language, or who rely on different means to reach a common goal.

 With the increased globalization in everything we do, it is essential to establish and maintain effective cross-cultural communication
Miss Apio from Northern Uganda is trading with miss Atim from Eastern Uganda. They respect each other’s culture

With the increased globalization in everything we do, it is essential to establish and maintain effective cross-cultural communication. Workplace diversity can clearly create more opportunities than challenges. That said, we should place a strong emphasis on developing employees who are consciously aware of cultural differences and how to embrace to surface those opportunities

Alongside establishing effective communication within the workplace, expressing interest in aspects of an employee’s life outside of the office can create a strong relationship. Regardless of cultural differences, people want to feel like they are a part of a community. Effective internal communications in a culturally diverse organization means being able to share and exchange ideas based on mutual awareness, respect and credibility. Implementing diversity training to improve communication in the workplace is mutually beneficial for employees and the organization, ensuring a high level of productivity and return on investment.

In today’s diverse workplace, communication issues can take on an added dimension of complexity. Every culture has its own set of tacit assumptions and tendencies when it comes to face-to-face interactions, and trying to get your point across effectively can sometimes be difficult. Even when a language barrier doesn’t exist, cross-cultural communication can be challenging. Here are 6 tips for effective cross-cultural communication:

1. Maintain etiquette  

Many cultures have specific etiquette around the way they communicate. Before you meet, research the target culture, or if time allows, do some cross cultural training. For example, many cultures expect a degree of formality at the beginning of communication between individuals. Every culture has its own specific way of indicating this formality. For example in Africa, Simple small talk is permissible, but don’t try to talk too much business or seriousness during a meal.  Serious issues are handled after the meal.

2. Avoid slang 

Not even the most educated non-native English speaker will have a comprehensive understanding of English slang, idioms and sayings. They may understand the individual words you have said, but not the context or the meaning. As a result you could end up confusing them or at worst, offending them.

3. Speak slowly

Even if English is the common language in a cross cultural situation it’s not a good idea to speak at your normal conversational speed. Modulating your pace will help, as will speaking clearly and pronouncing your words properly. Break your sentences into short, definable sections and give your listener time to translate and digest your words as you go. But don’t slow down too much as it might seem patronising. If the person you’re speaking to is talking too quickly or their accent is making it difficult for you to understand them, don’t be afraid to politely ask them to slow down too.

4. Keep it simple

In a cross cultural conversation there’s no need to make it harder for both of you by using big words. Just keep it simple. Two syllable words are much easier to understand than three syllable words, and one syllable words are better than two syllable words. Say “Please do this quickly” rather than “Please do this in an efficacious manner.”

5. Practice active listening

Active listening is a very effective strategy for improving cross cultural communication. Restate or summarise what the other person has said, to ensure that you have understood them correctly, and ask frequent questions. This helps build rapport and ensures that important information doesn’t get missed or misunderstood. Like in Africa, silence is an African value. Don’t be alarmed or nervous with spans of silence during African conversation.  When there’s something to be said, it will be said; when there’s nothing to be said, silence is perfectly fine.  There’s no need to feel uneasy during a period of silence in Africa, take the time just to enjoy the presence of others.

Make the conversation flow more freely by taking it in turns to speak. Make a point and then listen to the other person respond. Particularly when people are speaking English as their second language it’s better to talk to them in short exchanges rather than delivering a long monologue that might be difficult for them to follow.

6. Be careful with humour

Many cultures take business very seriously and believe in behaving professionally and following protocol at all times. Consequently they don’t appreciate the use of humour and jokes in a business context. If you do decide to use humour make sure it will be understood and appreciated in the other culture and not cause offence. Be aware that British sarcasm usually has a negative effect abroad.

Effective cross cultural communication is about all parties feeling comfortable. In any conversation with a non-native English speaker, treat them with respect, do your best to communicate clearly and give them encouragement when they respond. This will help build their confidence and trust

Employees need to feel not only accepted, but valued in an organization. By attentively listening to the concerns and viewpoints of others, employees will start to feel confident in the workplace. Active listening means paying attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues.

We tend to be unaware of our own biases, placing stereotype and cultural assumptions on others. Creating an organizational awareness by providing diversity training ensures employees learn to be culturally mindful and gradually adaptable when communicating with people of different backgrounds.


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